23.02.2018 change 23.02.2018

Researchers at the West Pomeranian University of Technology are building a "crane of the future"

Photo: PAP/Marcin Bielecki Photo: PAP/Marcin Bielecki

Researchers from the West Pomeranian University of Technology together with researchers from Koszalin and Poznań are building a "crane of the future". This human-controlled robot will be used in harvesters (machines that work in the forest) for timber loading.

"The idea is to convert a conventional crane, controlled with grips, into a smart robot" - says Dean of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics of the West Pomeranian University of Technology, Dr. Mirosław Pajor. "Depending on the operator's movement command, the crane will calculate how to move its individual elements, and the control system will automatically control their movement" - he explains.

According to Pajor, many innovative solutions have been used in the crane control system. One of them is the possibility of controlling the crane with gestures. Researchers are developing a vision system that will track the operator. "The operator will show the crane how to move, and the machine will interpret it and will move accordingly, depending on the gesture" - the dean explains. The system will use a special multisensor equipped with video cameras, infrared cameras and a lidar system. The operator will also be monitored by special sensors that will allow the machine to read and interpret gestures.

The second vision system will be used to track the crane. "Until now, the operator was responsible for this. In the +crane of the future+, vision system will track the crane tip marked with special markers and calculate its location in space" - says Pajor.

The operator will also have special goggles developed by scientists from the West Pomeranian University of Technology. With these goggles, he will see both his surroundings and additional information displayed by the computer control system. This will allow him to precisely determine the place where the load carried by the crane should be dropped. The system will also be equipped with the so-called third eye. This will allow the operator to switch the image to see everything around the crane thanks to the system of additional cameras.

The most advanced part of the project is the exoskeleton for crane control. It is a mechanical arm that captures the kinematics of the human arm. It is equipped with numerous sensors that control the position of the arm, but also measure the forces that act on the arm. "For example, if the crane lifts a load that is too heavy, the operator will feel that, on the appropriate scale of course" - Pajor describes.

The system will also be equipped with pressure sensors that will help it sense the operator's intentions. According to Pajor, the plans include testing the use of electromyography in the device, so that the exoskeleton can read the operator's intentions and react accordingly by sending signals to the crane. Mirosław Pajor explains that the exoskeleton is light and very durable, and the operator will not feel it. "The drive system, knowing the position of the exoskeleton and its construction, will create forces that will keep it in the state of levitation, and the operator will only experience the signals sent from the crane" - he says.

The project is financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under the Applied Research Program. It is implemented by four partners. The leader and coordinator is the West Pomeranian University of Technology in Szczecin. The Poznan University of Technology and Koszalin University of Technology cooperate on the project, and the industrial partner is Cargotec, supplier of cranes for the construction of research stations.

Koszalin University of Technology is working on a colloquial speech voice control system. Authors of the project explain that the idea is that the system should not require strictly specified commands. The crane should understand freely formulated commands. "+Move up+ and +go up+ should be interpreted as the same command. It will be possible to control the crane in Polish and English. The idea is that the operator should not have to learn a special language, and ubstead be able to simply +talk to the crane+" - Pajor says. Poznań University of Technology is working on a grip that transmits force impressions. If the crane lifts too much weight, the operator will feel resistance on the grip.

The project authors assume that cranes of this type will be used for loading timber in so-called harvesters, machines that work in forests. "These devices have complex kinematics, perform sophisticated movements in space, and the operator must have great skills and experience to control them. Now it will be easier" - says Pajor. He emphasises that the main objective of the system is that it should be intuitive, support the operator and reduce the risk of error.

The authors of the project plan to integrate all components in May. The crane is expected to be ready in September. The project cost is PLN 4 million (PAP)

PAP - Science in Poland

author: Elżbieta Bielecka

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